From the September 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

Keeping track of trends in men's neckwear could tie you up in knots. One day it's the power tie; another day men are boldly (or not so boldly) wearing ties the same color as their shirts. Now, however, we hear the collar has turned yet again: Get ready to welcome the bow tie back into style.

Knot--er, not--that it ever really went away, of course. It's just that with a renewed emphasis on elegance, the bow tie is seemingly front and center in fashionable circles. "People are more open to them now with the trend toward dressing up," explains Maureen McCormack, merchandise coordinator for the men's apparel retailer Paul Stuart in New York City. "It has a natty appeal."

Oddly enough, the very uniqueness that propels the popularity of the bow tie may be the quality that takes away from it as well. "It's not for everyone," observes McCormack, whose store sells bow ties in solids and patterns. "There's a certain personality that goes along with it--a certain eccentricity. It's very personal."

And that about ties it up.

Hot Tea

Has the American public had its fill of the same old iced tea? That's what Tim Roche is betting with his recently launched "Vice T."

As its name suggests, there's more to Vice T than meets the palate. "It's got a little bit of a kick to it," says Roche, 33, who hopes to create a new product category: alcoholic iced tea. "It's a malt beverage, but it tastes like a bottled, sweetened lemon tea."

Roche's Plymouth, Minnesota-based Malternative Brewing Co. rolled out its debut product in May. Available in about a dozen states, Vice T is projected to reach national distribution within three years.

"People are like `Wow! I can't believe no one has thought of this [before],' " says Roche, whose tea has a 5.3 percent alcohol content. "It's really been going over well."

Inspired to create Vice T after learning of the overseas success of alcoholic lemonade, Roche predicts sales for his beverage brainchild will reach $10 million in three years. T-riffic!

Running Tab

For those who missed out on the pog sensation--and, frankly, that includes most of us--there's another trend sneaking its way onto the nation's playgrounds. Sure, we could string you along. Sure, we could drag our feet--making you wade through countless shoe puns before telling you what's afoot. But, well, we're just not going to do that.

What we will do is direct your attention to the soda can on your desk. See that tab on top of the can? You're looking at the latest fashion accessory of cool young kids. These in-the-loop youngsters are attaching soda can tabs to their shoelaces.

Is this a trend with, er, legs? We hope not--we've certainly used up nearly all the shoe puns we can think of. Then again, kids do seem awfully keen on tabs right now, so . . . who knows?

Cattle Call

Not so long ago, penguins were generating heat in the advertising industry. Well, we're nothing if not a nation short on attention span. Nowadays we're spotting cows pitching everything from milk (OK, we get it) to laptop computers (huh?). Says brand-name strategist Nick Shore, owner of Nickandpaul, a New York City-based brand agency, "A lot of the stuff I'm seeing now I wonder `Why is there a cow in this?' "

Pressed to explain the sudden advertising appeal of bovines, however, Shore proposes a couple of theories. First and foremost, he says, cows are just plain funny. "They're [also] quite Zen," he offers. "They're like life's observers. You know, they just stand and watch and absorb [what's going on]. You look into their eyes, and it seems they've got a soul--unlike sharks, for instance."

Our theory? Simple: Cows just look moo-velous.

Tech It Out

Imagine a world without microwave ovens. Chilling, isn't it? It's no surprise, then, to find these cooking dynamos heading the list of technologies that Americans say have improved their lives the most. Specifically, in a study recently published in Predatory Marketing: What Everyone in Business Needs to Know to Win Today's Consumer (William Morrow & Co. Inc.) by C. Britt Beemer with Robert L. Shook, the following are revealed as the top 10 technology favorites:

1. Microwave oven

2. Universal remote control (TV and VCR)

3. Garage-door opener

4. Home telephone answering machine

5. Ear thermometer

6. Breath analyzer

7. Programmable home thermostat

8. Call-waiting telephone service

9. Automatic deposit of payroll/government check

10. Supermarket price scanner

Plugged In

What of the much-ballyhooed personal computer, though? Fear not, PC lovers. In an unrelated 1996 survey of 1,000 PC-owning U.S. households by research firms Lexmark International and Roper Starch Worldwide, strong allegiance was professed to the mighty machine. So much so, in fact, that most computer owners say they'd rather do without other major appliances than part with their PCs.

Consider: If forced to choose between their stereos and PCs, 67 percent opt for the PC. Change the choice to one between dishwashers and PCs, and the percentage of PC voters drops to 60 percent. Numbers crunch to a virtual dead heat, however, when the choice is between televisions and computers. Still, 51 percent of those surveyed say they'd trade in their televisions--"Must See TV" nights notwithstanding.

Final Analysis

Thankfully, no one's demanding American consumers give up their microwaves or computers. We remain a nation transfixed--and transformed--by convenience, as both of the aforementioned surveys indicate. If push comes to shove, however, we have a hard time envisioning the masses peaceably relinquishing their remote controls--even if it's in favor of working on their computers. But maybe that's just us.

Comics Capers

Comic books are getting something of a makeover. Inspired--or, rather, uninspired--by the dearth of positive black role models in the world of superheroes, a few enterprising entrepreneurs are taking it upon themselves to paint a new picture.

"When I read comic books [in the past], I liked the white characters, but I found myself not really gravitating to the African-American characters," says longtime collector and comic book creator Alonzo Washington, explaining the impetus for starting his Kansas City, Kansas, company, Omega 7 Inc. "The reason [I didn't relate to these characters] was that they were usually written in some degrading manner. They were typically ex-cons, not too bright--and they spoke in stupid slang."

Enter Omega Man. Washington's time-traveling, crime-busting Omega Man has given black superheroes increased visibility with his recent graduation from comic book character to action figure toy this summer. During the same time period, Will Smith's character from the box-office smash movie "Men in Black" also took a high-profile turn as an action figure toy.

"Hopefully, the color line will be broken and we'll get into more mainstream stores," says Washington, 30, whose Omega Man is sold through the Toys "R" Us retail chain. Omega 7--which has released six different comic book titles since its inception in 1992--is expected to superpower its way to sales of $1.5 million this year.

"For the most part, America knows only one note of the African-American existence," says a cautiously optimistic Washington. "They haven't seen the symphony. I think Omega 7 is [helping to change] that."

Super Rumor?

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's . . . another Superman movie? With this summer's Batman frenzy all but a distant memory, filmgoers anxiously await the next superhero to suit up for action. They may not have to wait long: Word is, Warner Bros. plans another big-screen go-round with the Man of Steel for next summer. If Hollywood rumors prove to be as strong as kryptonite, Academy Award-winning actor Nicolas Cage will star in the title role. And--how's this for superheroic symmetry?--"Batman" director Tim Burton is reportedly set to helm the would-be blockbuster.

Contact Sources

Lexmark International, (606) 232-7541

Malternative Brewing Co., 181 Cheshire Ln., #100, Plymouth, MN 55441, (612) 404-5836

Nickandpaul, (212) 989-0868, nicknandp@aol.com

Omega 7 Inc., P.O. Box 171046, Kansas City, KS 66117, (913) 321-6764

Paul Stuart Men's Stores, Madison Ave. at 45th St., New York, NY 10017, (800) 678-8278.